Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Beer Engine, Skipton

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The Beer Engine is another of those micropubs that is tucked away down a quiet side street. The location is perfect, close to the scenic canal and the town centre. Any concerns I may have had earlier in my trip about these hidden micropubs not drawing in enough passing trade have evaporated as the evidence speaks for itself, all these micropubs are doing all right – and anyway, perhaps random passers by are not the kind of customer a micropub wants – those who are actively seeking somewhere special will have done their homework and find out where the best pubs are in a town before they visit. Or will they?

Run by couple Steve and Janet and ably assisted by several bar staff, The Beer Engine is a marvellous pub in a small town that is not that blacking in decent “normal” pubs and so has some stiff competition. If you fancy a bit of a crawl, you could also try The Narrowboat, just around the corner, and The Woolly Sheep in town. Over a chat, Steve told me he used to do legal work before they opened The Beer Engine, but now the micropub is his full time vocation.

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Ale is served from 5 handpumps on a traditional bar, but with a very similar setup to The Snug in that the casks are visible behind the bar. They even have the same hoist arrangement as the Snug so, hopefully, both pubs will remain hernia and backache free zones. There’s a row of pump-clips on the wall indicating which beers will be on the bar next.

Jules, who served me, explained to me that they arrange the beers by colour/style from left to right, i.e. Blonde, Pale, Golden, “Quirky”, Dark. I went for dark and quirky – my wife would not have been surprised.

I enjoyed spending the evening in the Beer Engine. I got talking to some of the drinkers there, and finally with a nice couple who had been visiting Skipton for a few days but live in Blyth, on the North East coast. The Oddfellows Arms, where I had lodged a few nights previously turned out to be their local. Small world! (This kind of thing kept happening to me – a couple at the campsite in Beal turned out to have been in the Liberty Belle in Ely about a month earlier on precisely the same night that I had visited it with a group of friends)!. Anyway, back to Alan & Sheila from Blyth, because they contradicted what I had been saying earlier about micropubs not missing good customers by being too hidden. Alan and Sheila judged the Beer Engine to be the best pub they had tried in Skipton, but despite having walked past it several times over the previous few days it was only that evening, their last night in Skipton, that they had actually realised it was a pub! So they came close to never finding it at all! I would have thought the name and the empty casks outside the front door might have given some clue as to what went on inside, but perhaps people have an inbuilt expectation that a pub should look like a “pub”.

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Carnforth to Skipton

Carnforth to Skipton was yet another hilly, but very beautiful ride.

Mind you, I was a little unnerved when I turned a corner into the village of Wray and encountered an eeirie sight. The village was preparing for its annual scarecrow festival, which during the bank holiday weekend would draw thousands of visitors, but right now the village was almost deserted other than the odd villager, vastly outnumbered by stuffed effigies of all kinds hanging from tree, in front gardens. It really felt like I had walked onto the set of the Wicker Man!

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The beauties of travelling by bike: To start with, you often find yourself taking the road less travelled, but also you are travelling at a pace slow enough to allow you to notice things as you pass.

The Snug, Carnforth

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After the 3 day, 160 mile ride from Berwick to Carnforth, I was ready for a pint! I think that will be the longest distance between micropubs on my route! The Snug Micropub in Carnforth is the third micropub on my journey so far that’s been housed in a railway station building (the others were the Railway Arms in Downham Market and The Rat Race in Hartlepool). The sight and sound of trains coming and going, and the character of the old railway buildings, can be relied on to lend a certain quirkiness to any station pub.

But Carnforth station is also iconic as the setting for 1945 black and white film “Brief Encounter”. (In preparation, the week before I set off I made sure to watch Brief Encounter at home and “invited” my family to join me. My teenage daughters were suitably impressed by Dad taking over the TV for the evening with this “old crap”, but by the end of the movie they had seemed quite riveted). There’s many an opportunity to have a nose around the station and although it’s changed quite a bit in the past 70 years, parts of it are recognisable from the film. If you have time, also check out the heritage centre and the cafe on the station, refitted to look like the one in the film.

Anyway, back to the pub: Wow, it’s popular! When I arrived at 5.30 on a Wednesday evening there was barely room to move! It has a real friendly feel to it and is clearly supported by a loyal band of regulars. There is a conventional wooden bar, fitted with a row of 5 handpumps, but the casks are also on show in a glass-fronted air-conditioned beer cupboard behind the bar – Not only is this good to look at (a common sight in Southern micropubs, but quite rare up North) but also helps you to work out what beers will be next to come on. An electric hoist has been fitted to help lift the casks into place. I ordered a pint of Conqueror Black IPA from Windsor & Eton Brewery, which was excellent, and quite interesting as it looked like a stout but tasted hoppy like an IPA – better than I describe it!! The Snug runs a loyalty card scheme: buy 9 pints and get 1 free. I took a card as a souvenir, but there was no way I was going to earn my free pint in one evening and get back on my bike the next morning (!)

Shortly after I got to the pub, landlady Juliea arrived. Alas, her husband Gregg was abroad on a trip with a group of pub regulars so I didn’t get to meet him. Gregg gave up his job(something in politics) to run the Snug, but Julie still works, and helps out at the Snug as well. They also employ several bar staff.
I had a great chat with Julie who told me stories of her and Gregg’s travels around the world. They certainly have lived interesting and varied lives!

The Snug is a very friendly place with many of the regulars making their own contribution. (A good micropub is more than a business!) Not least Paul (a.k.a. Banksy) who has been responsible for much of the art work around the pub. It’s clearly an inspiration to others, as I met at least one regular who is considering opening up his own micropub.

The Snug is also fortunate to have an outside area, separated from the train tracks by railings, where one can drink outside and watch the trains go past – if that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, Julie mentioned that one of storage yards for steam charters is nearby so it’s not unusual for a steam train to puff by! Real “brief encounter” stuff!

The Snug is a micropub gem. My encounter with it was all to brief (groan!), so I’ll have to find an excuse to pop up to that part of the world again. I’ll have to hang on to my loyalty card!
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Carlisle to Carnforth

It took me 2 days to ride from Carlisle to Carnforth.   I didn’t set off from Carlisle until after lunch on Tuesday and by the time I had reached Penrith it was time to call it a day. I called in at the Tourist Information and asked if they could sort me out any cheap lodgings.   The man said “I think the wayfarers hostel will be the right place for you”.   The name conjured up visions of the kind of place that gives out free soup, but it turned out to be a very pleasant independent youth hostel.   That night it was pretty full of people riding West to East along the Sustrans C2C bike route.   One of them was wearing this t-shirt …

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If you think that’s sexist, I can think of a quite a few women who would proudly wear that shirt with the word husband on it!

I also found an almost-a-micropub in Penrith: The Moo Bar.

The next day, it was back to hill climbing as, one way or another, I needed to get over Shap summit. At the bottom, the sun was shining. Half way up, it began to snow! By the time I reached the top, the sun was shining again. What amazed me was, before the M6 was opened in the 1970’s, the road I had taken had been THE major road link between Scotland and North West England.   I stopped in Shap village ot pick up some supplies and the lady behind the counter remembered those days, and recalled how, in bad weather, large numbers of travellers would become stranded, and would often be put up overnight in people’s homes when all the lodgings became full.

The descent into Kendal was pure bliss.   In Kendal, I stopped for a late lunch at a lovely cafe called Truly Scrumptious, where it turned out that the owners Gail & Dan were regulars at the micropub in Carnforth, 20 miles away, that I was heading for!

Keg in Carlisle

When I awoke, there was frost on the ground. I thought it had got a bit cold at night-time, but had not realised it had been that cold!

Today was a quite a hard ride, there were some big hills to be climbed, but I finally reached Carlisle.

Tonight, I’m staying with an old friend that lives in Carlisle.

As I approached Carlisle, the sky took on an angrier look, and it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the heavens would open. I was just hoping that would happen after I got to Nick’s house and was home and dry! Alas, about 5 miles from Carlisle the heavens opened. I put on my waterproof top and waterproof overshoes, but didn’t bother about my legs getting wet.   Big mistake! It was such a downpour that by the time I had reached Nick’s house, capilliary action had done its worst and my feet (and more importantly, my only pair of shoes) were dripping wet. On the plus side, at least this was the night I had a roof over my head rather than a tent.   So, clothes were arranged to dry by the fire, and I took the opportunity to do some laundry at the same time.

Anyway, with nothing to wear on my feet I figured this might turn out to be a ‘dry’ night in. But Nick wasn’t having any of it, and managed to dig out an old pair of trainers that were only one size too small and only had very small holes in the toes.   So then it was down to Harraby Working Mens Club for a night of keg, keg, keg.

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One of Nick’s hobbies is collecting old pinball machines, to the extent that his house resembles a small museum.

Break for the border!

I set off out of Berwick. Aiming to get as far as possible towards Carlisle, to make my ride tomorrow as short as possible.   I had no accommodation booked, and had planned to wild camp somewhere.   About 5 minutes up the road the hail that had fallen while I was in The Curfew returned. Half an hour later the sun was out! This pattern would repeat throughout the afternoon.

The Scottish borders region is beautiful, although more populated and farmed than I had anticipated.

At around 6.30 I rolled into Kelso, found a fish and chip shop and grabbed my dinner while at the same time dodging another hailstorm going on outside.

I rode on. As the sun got lower in the sky, I started to look left and right for potential wild camping spots, but everywhere looked “owned” or in view of a house.   As it grew almost dark, I chickened out and found a golf course that offered camping near to Ancrum. After a nice warm shower, I sat in the golf club bar with a pint, charging my phone and updating my Facebook status it seemed like I had made the right choice, but deep down I was gutted. If I had not plucked up the courage to put my tent up in the wild in Scotland, where it is theoretically legal, I would surely find it that much harder to do in England, where it was not. We’ll see.

The Curfew, Berwick on Tweed

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After leaving Hartlepool, I spent two days cycling along the stunningly beautiful Northumberland coastline to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last town before the Scottish border, arriving at The Curfew micropub in time for Sunday lunchtime opening. The entrance to The Curfew is quite low key, a narrow iron gate between two shops, with a small sign above. To me, it conjures up the impression that across that threshold will be found some kind of private members club, or perhaps an illicit drinking den! Or maybe I have an over-fertile imagination(!)

The narrow passageway then opens out into a lovely enclosed courtyard with tables and chairs with lots of potential for outside drinking, especially in the summer. The courtyard had been put to good use a few weeks previously when the pub had its first beer festival.

The micropub proper is off the right hand side of the courtyard, a long narrow single room with a bright but cosy feel. The floors are polished wooden floorboards, a mixture of seating includes some old church pews, and the bar, at the far end, appears to be made from old reclaimed oak panelled doors. Excellent! Knowledgeable barman, Dave, talked me through the 4 beers on offer and I plumped for a pint of Black Saison, a rich dark beer from Cornish brewery firebrand. There’s also an interesting collection of beers in the fridge. Wines are also on offer.

Owners, Gemma and David, arrived soon afterwards. They have been very supportive of my ride and it was great to have a chat with them about their experiences with The Curfew. They opened The Curfew in June 2014 after converting the building from a former bedsit.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Simon and Debbie Rutherford who are in the throes of opening Scotland’s first ever micropub “Rutherford’s”, just over the border in Kelso! They hope to open late May / early June, so I may have to plan a visit North of the border later in the year (although I might not cycle there!) With such good company all round it became difficult to just up and leave after a pint, plus which I knew that I would not reach my next micropub for several days as it was 160 miles away in Carnforth. A hailstorm outside and the discovery that The Curfew do 3 x 1/3 pint tasting paddles clinched it, and also gave me the chance to try all 4 beers on offer!

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